Jonna Kangas & Heidi Harju-Luukkainen
Across the Nordic countries a systematic dialogue is carried out on multiple levels of the education system. Reforms are jointly discussed and educational policies and practices are shared between the Nordic countries. The political and social attention towards Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) has increased over the past decade internationally, but especially in Finland where multiple major educational reforms have taken place. The reform included political changes when ECEC was transferred from social policy to the Ministry of Education in 2013 and the process continued with a curricula reform when new educational goals were set for ECEC practices. In many other countries, which are undertaking educational reforms, the Finnish process and its results are viewed carefully (see Garvis, Phillipson & Harju-Luukkainen, 2018). Therefore, it is important to note that no education system is developed in a vacuum, but rather in a dynamic and multi-theoretical context, forming a diverse basis for research and practice. This diverse and dynamic nature of the Finnish ECEC system is a strength, making it interesting globally as well. From these premises, we took the opportunity to write this blog text. This text is based on our recent book “Finnish Early Childhood Education and Care – A Multi-theoretical perspective on Research and Practice”, published in June 2022 by Springer Nature. The book comprises 19 chapters describing the dynamic and multi-theoretical nature of Finnish Early Childhood Education from various points of view. All of the chapters in the book are a balance of multiple theoretical perspectives and empirical data. Each of the chapters highlights the following aspects,
- research on the field of Early Childhood Education in Finland
- country’s policies and/or practices connected to this area of research
- theory and empirical data
- critical perspectives and possible developmental objects are highlighted.
The authors come from different universities in Finland, from the Ministry of Education and Culture and municipalities, in order to give width to the perspectives of the system as well as contemporary research issues. It also comprises top-level researchers from abroad with a profound understanding of the Finnish ECEC, in order to give an external perspective on the issues.
In Finland, ECEC is seen as an investment in the future. The aim of ECEC is not only to prepare children for school but to give them tools and competencies for life such as self-efficacy, resilience, learning-to-learn skills, and happiness through holistic wellbeing (see Kangas, Ojala & Venninen, 2015). Globally, policymakers have recognised the benefits of good quality early childhood education and care on children’s learning and development. Therefore governments globally are starting to understand that good quality ECEC plays a crucial role in developing a country’s social and economic potential now and for the future. However, still after these reforms, according to Unicef (2019) only half of all pre-primary-age children around the world are enrolled in preschool, teachers lack good quality training and there is a worldwide shortage of ECEC teachers. The lack of resources and the dissatisfaction with the increasing demands of teaching work causes among other factors teachers’ withdrawal from their profession. Our previous results (Harju-Luukkainen & Kangas, 2021; Kangas & Harju-Luukkainen, 2021) suggest that teachers are given a large number of different roles as well as values across the different policy documents. Teachers are asked to be more of everything now and in the future. For instance, more research-oriented, more critical thinkers, better active agents, better knowledge processors, more digital, stronger multi-professional networkers, and to have better competency for assessment based personal development (which is not standardized in the Finnish educational model). However, how all of this is achieved by the individual teacher, is not stated.
The ECEC system in Finland is one of the most equal ones in the world and should be understood through its holistic and multi-theoretical foundation combining education and care through the EduCare approach. The systematic and goal-oriented ECEC consists of upbringing, education and care where pedagogy is emphasized. In Finland it is based on a scientific understanding of education through developmental psychology, sociology, theories of democracy, sustainable development, inclusion, pedagogy, management, organizational psychology, and wellbeing among others. Therefore, for instance, the early childhood teacher training lies on a multi-theoretical foundation, where each teacher has to find a personal theoretical approach to teaching. This is done because teachers organize their everyday interaction, teaching, and care-related actions based on a wide understanding of the development, learning, agency, and wellbeing of children. High-quality teacher education is based on reflective practices, where university-trained teachers use their multi-theoretical knowledge and holistic understanding to assess and develop the pedagogical practices to answer the changing needs of children and society. Therefore, it can be stated that ECEC in Finland is a unique combination of international influences and local interests to put each child and family at the center of the services.
There is also a need to take a critical perspective on the research described in our book. In the book there is a research area that is left unnoticed throughout the chapters. The focus of policy and research is not described as connected to the future, but the perspective relies on evidence of past actions and contexts. It is important to note that early childhood education is strongly focusing on the holistic approach of lifelong learning from toddlerhood to higher education and beyond, making the future of education a key element of all teaching. The trend of life-long learning views citizens as learning and transforming individuals that take responsibility for their personal learning and life from a young age onwards (Harju-Luukkainen & Kangas, 2021). Despite this, the value of early childhood education is presented for the children and their parents as something that is only “here and now”. In the Finnish ECEC the child is seen as an active member of their society, and each individual child has the right to participate and belong to the education through their personal interests and capacities. This dualistic approach to education is one of the core elements of Finnish early childhood education and care policies and practices. Therefore, all the possible “futures” need to be kept open for the children and enable children’s participation and agency in education every day, since we do not know what the future holds for them. (see Kangas et al., 2019).
The book ”Finnish Early Childhood Education and Care – A Multi-theoretical perspective on Research and Practice” raises critical aspects to consider for policymakers and practitioners of ECEC both in Finland and globally. Each chapter’s implications and recommendations show a critical understanding and holistic conceptualization of early education: In Finnish ECEC different aspects, such as teacher education, curriculum, classroom practices, parental cooperation and services for families, evaluation and assessment, educational policies or leadership are not seen as individual elements, but rather as a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon where certain values and perspectives always need to consider.
Further on when following the implication recommendations of the authors, the role and quality of the teacher education should be considered in the critical discourse on the quality of the early education. Teacher education policies and practices together with a strong scientific foundation are the basis for the development of education in the future. Finnish teacher education is based on a multi-disciplinary, multi-theoretical and critical approach, where the theory and practice form a holistic compound of teaching and learning in different contexts of ECEC. Further, teacher training students are the future driving force of education and they will influence thousands of children’s everyday lives years and decades after their teacher training. That is why the role of science-based and critical teacher education is one essential foundation of the Finnish ECE and will have an important role, also in the future.
The political orientation to develop the educational systems towards perfection is strong in Finland and different stakeholders aim to control this development through guiding documents. One of the latest, by the Ministry of Education and Culture (Jokinen & Nieminen, 2019), brings into focus the visions for the future. Future visions can be used to contextualize and form coherent entities and interconnections about the ideas of the future with different forces, trends, and signals that are driving the change. The aim of this vision work is to understand through the future values they present – and the present values they critically review – to create new values for innovative and entrepreneurial development, or in a more general sense, by taking the understanding and responsible actions to address global challenges, such as exclusion, resource scarcity, and climate change. The Finnish ECEC does this through the holistic approach of learning as an adaptation process to culture and society. However, in an educational system that acknowledges the importance of education in the child’s holistic learning, well-being and development, the actual operations and pedagogy can be based on factors that restrict opportunities for learning and wellbeing (Kangas et al. 2020). Future education in the early years requires a vision of sustainability and resilience through the multi-voiced discussion about social and cultural values together with economical viewpoints. In each country the early childhood education processes, as well as curricula, are emphasizing the quality of early childhood education as well as focus on the best possible future for the children. When early education practices and policies are not clearly defined and the development of practices is not based on research-based decision-making, this leads to differences in the interpretations on the operational and political levels (see Harju-Luukkainen & al. 2019). As we claimed before, early childhood education has multi-theoretical and dynamic descriptions located, and further developed, in different contexts and cultures.
For the future Finnish ECEC new knowledge, understanding, insights, ideas, techniques, strategies, and solutions are required to solve problems, both old and new. In the future, education can only remain up to date with strong efforts to find knowledge and create practices that make it easier to understand a changing, sometimes even chaotic world. More general visions for the future of education should be opened and multiple voices shared with a larger audience without discrimination. Making sustainable solutions is based on values, the structuring of which requires a broad, imaginative, and dynamic understanding of knowledge based on different perspectives. We hope that implications that can be drawn from this book focus on the future of early childhood education and towards a more responsible and diverse educational community and beyond. We hope that they will have a strong input for a society where decisions are made for the benefit of children’s well-being and learning, for our future.
Garvis, S., Philipsson, S. & Harju-Luukkainen, H. (2018). Volume I: Early Childhood Education in the 21st Century. International Teaching, Family and Policy Perspectives. Routledge.
Harju-Luukkainen, H., Kangas, J. & Garvis, S. (2022). Finnish Early Childhood Education and Care – A Multi-theoretical perspective on Research and Practice. Springer Nature (published June 2022). https://link.springer.com/book/9783030955113
Harju-Luukkainen, H., & Kangas, J. (2021). The Role of Early Childhood Teachers in Finnish Policy Documents: Training Teachers for the Future? In W. Boyd, & S. Garvis (Eds.), International Perspectives on Early Childhood Teacher Education in the 21st Century (pp. 65-80). Springer Nature
Harju-Luukkainen, H., Garvis, S., & Kangas, J. (2019). “After Lunch We Offer Quiet Time and Meditation”: Early Learning Environments in Australia and Finland Through the Lenses of Educators. In S. Faas, D. Kasüschke, E. Nitecki, M. Urban, & H. Wasmuth (Eds.), Globalization, Transformation, and Cultures in Early Childhood Education and Care: Reconceptualization and Comparison (pp. 203-219). (Critical Cultural Studies of Childhood). Palgrave Macmillan.
Jokinen, A. & Nieminen, A. (2019). Visions for Early Childhood Education and Care 2040. Report on the Foresight. Process by Advisory Board on Early Childhood Education and Care. Publications of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland 2019:30
Kangas, J., & Harju-Luukkainen, H. (2021). What is the future of ECE teacher profession? Teacher’s agency in Finland through the lenses of policy documents. The Morning Watch: Educational and Social Analysis, 47(1), 48-75.
Kangas, J., Harju-Luukkainen, H., Brotherus, A., Kuusisto, A., & Gearon, L. (2019). Playing to Learn in Finland: Early childhood Curricular and Operational Context. In S. Garvis, & S. Phillipson (Eds.), Policification of Early Childhood Education and Care: Early Childhood Education in the 21st Century Volume III (pp. 71-85). (Evolving Families). Routledge.
Kangas, J., Ojala, M., & Venninen, T. (2015). Children’s Self-Regulation in the Context of Participatory Pedagogy in Early Childhood Education. Early Education and Development, 26(5-6), 847-870.
Unicef. (2019). An unfair start: Inequality in children’s education in rich countries. United Nations.